Over the weekend of 4th and 5th of March I got to go to New Zealand’s premier whisky event, Dramfest.
Before I went, my wife told me to treat this like an adventure – very good advice, as you will see.
Saturday morning flight to Christchurch and off to the Te Pai Convention Centre at 12:30 to be meet a queue of other Whisky addicts. Te Pai has plenty of space and the show was well laid out on one level (t as the afternoon went on, that was good as everybody became relaxed in various degrees of inattention).
After a lovely bagpipe intro, the stands were allowed to pour.
This year I decided to forgo the master classes and instead just do the stands. At previous Dramfests I have gone to every master class available; this time I wanted to spend more time just mingling.
On Saturday I managed to try about forty drams, the majority cask strength (the Wellington Curse).
My pick for the day – and indeed as one of the stand outs for Dramfest – was the Cotswolds Founders Choice at a hefty 60.5% ABV. My notes record just the word “Wow” under Nose, with the same recorded in Taste. I don’t usually limit myself to a few words, but this was fantastic.
The next memorable stand was the Alistair Walker Whisky Company. They had two drams that stood out: the Infrequent Flyers Benriach at 57.2% and the Glenrothes at 62.8%. I feel the Benriach nudged ahead and indeed shares my first equal as the best dram of the weekend with the Founders Choice.
The impact of 40 high-strength whiskies during Saturday afternoon created a few internal GPS issues.
A surprising Saturday find for me was the Sagamore Spirit stand. Sagamore make Rye whiskey, and I like Rye whiskey. Two drams on the stand stood out, mainly by not having that minty taste you sometimes get with Rye. I found one not listed in the menu but that had a very much a Wow moment – the Sherry Finish Rye finished in PX sherry barrels at 52%. It came at you in two layers on the taste, and I hope Whisky Galore gets more in!
The Adventure – aka Pat’s Magical Mystery Tour
The Te Pai venue is 200 metres in a straight-ish line from our hotel – a short walk. However, the impact of 40 high-strength whiskies during Saturday afternoon created a few internal GPS issues, and getting to the hotel became a much greater challenge than anticipated.
I had walked four blocks past my hotel before I encountered another Dramfest attendee.
“Pat, you’ve gone too far. You need to turn around and go back into town.”
So I went back three blocks, then sat down thinking “This is hard work!”
There followed a text conversation with my wife (who was waiting with deteriorating patience in the hotel lobby) – refer photos below. My part in the conversation was rather confused, and my wife was not amused in the slightest. I walked the last block and saw a large neon sign identifying the hotel. Bliss.
For clarity, the phrase “No funding idwa” contains typing errors.
I started the Sunday session with the Kavalan 58.6% Port finish. It is amazing, and surprisingly better than their Sherry finish.
The New Zealanders
I was taken aback with delight by the New Zealand offerings at Dramfest, and my Sunday tour of various NZ distillers’ stands revealed some new delights.
I visited the stand of Christchurch’s own Spirits Workshop, with their 5-year-old Divergence 5 and the new bottling of the Portwood in tawny casks.
Next was the Pokeno Whisky stand. The Origin was a lovely smooth dram, but the pick was the Prohibition Porter from a first fill bourbon single cask – dark chocolate all the way and very smooth indeed. I had to leave the stand; staying was far too far too tempting.
Then on to Waiheke Whisky. I had sort of written Waiheke off a few months back after tasting some of their sample minis. After tasting their offerings at Dramfest, I admit I definitely was wrong. They gave me the Dramfest special bottling at 46%. There is amazing mouth feel and, typical of NZ peat, just a hint of sea, smooth with a long finish.
I was then given a dram called Cantankerous which they said was for a cantankerous person. Moi??? Again, this dram was not on the menu. It is excellent and well worth finding – if you can.
No worries getting back to the hotel this time.
It is always a pleasure to go to a world class event here in NZ and, as usual, the team at Whisky Galore have done an superb job in a great venue.
Because we were interested (and a little bit bored) we analysed some of the numbers in the Dramfest catalogue. They make for quite interesting reading.
The total price of all bottle in the catalogue: $34,320.76
The average prince: $138.39
The highest orice: the Glenfiddich “Grand Cru” 23yo 40% $592.00
Second: the Buffalo Trace Stagg JR 64.2% $401.00
Third: The Whisky Cellar Cambus Single Grain33yo 52.5% $386.00
On the (probably slightly under attended) Black Tot rum stand on Sunday, we used three bottles of each of the two drams we had. Assuming the same level of consumption for all the other stands over the two days, that is $205,900 worth of whisky consumed!
And that wildly undependable calculation:
– undoubtedly understates the number of bottles used on many of the stands,
– does not include the values of the “under the counter” bottles, or
– the value of merchandise sales from the front shop.